Sebastian Vettel is a 4-time Formula 1 champion. He is the first ballot hall of fame in the future with his trophy cabinet and the record of the youngest pole sitter ever. He has been the lead driver in Ferrari since 2015, and up to, possibly, today. In the Italian Grand Prix today, Vettel started fourth behind the Mercedes drivers and his much younger and less experienced teammate Charles Leclerc. Instead of fighting in the top, he spun, came back to the track dangerously, hit Lance Stroll and received a 10-second stop and go penalty, the most severe punishment behind only disqualification. His race was over at the point. Luckily for Ferrari and all the Tifosis, Charles Leclerc withstood the assaults from the Silver Arrows to win the race, first for Ferrari since 2010. As a result, Leclerc has now beaten Vettel in qualifying 7 races in a row, leapfrogged the German in the driver standing and been responsible for Ferrari’s two wins this season. The changing of the guards seems completed.
What went wrong for the 4-time champion? Every problem and mistake he has made for the past months looks to stem from his disastrous race in Germany last year. He was cruising to the win, but crashed out of the race on his own. Since then, he hasn’t been himself. Mistake after mistake and after each one, the pressure kept piling on. There is an argument that Vettel can’t cope with hungrier and younger teammates. At Red Bull, he was thoroughly beaten y Ricciardo. Now, Charles Leclerc has gotten the better of him. The pressure to win at Ferrari is incredible. His failure to win a world title with the Reds isn’t completely his fault. The team failed to give him a competitive car all year long. But his mistakes recently have been nobody’s but his and his alone.
Ferrari repeatedly said he would still race for the Red team next year and I am confident that is the case. Nonetheless, what if next year will be even worse since Leclerc will likely be more settled at Ferrari. He won’t secure a drive at Mercedes. Nor will he at Red Bull now that Max is the team leader and Red Bull is known for promoting drivers internally. Where would he go? Rumors of retirement have been circulating around the paddock and I would hate to see him retire at 33. He has still much to offer. But I think Ferrari should take him off the grid for the remainder of 2019 and install a young driver next to Charles. Doing so will give Vettel time to collect himself and get ready for next year as well as test a potential option in case the German walks after 2020. If a break can’t get him back to his formidable old self, I doubt leaving him on track for the rest of the season will do him any better.
Nonetheless, I wish for his sake and the team’s (I have been a Ferrari fan since 2005 and the last 10 years has been rough) that Vettel would find his way back to the top of the echelon of F1 soon.